My own journey as a community activist has been well documented in my writings, available on this website. I mention this yet again as a number of times recently I have been reminded of the rich poor divide that is all around me and see glaring examples of social injustices that cry out for a lasting remedy, and ask the questions what should be done and what am I doing about it? While this was something that bothered me in my middle teens as I began to take an interest in left wing politics, it sort of got squashed as I began to embrace a more fundamentalist leaning brand of Christianity, with its emphasis on saving souls as the only lasting and effective way to change society, a focus on the world that is to come and the need for holy living, which as it happens, I still believe are very important.
Most of the folk in that set up were comfortably well off but they were good people who meant well, who helped out their family, friends and close neighbours, and sometimes got involved in outreaches with a social angle, but that is as far as it went. Later, when I started to get more involved in the wider community and got to rub shoulders with those who did not share those beliefs and often had other priorities, which on the face of it seemed quite reasonable, my outlook changed. While my emphasis was on doing what I could to make a difference, I came increasingly to see there was a wider perspective that had a bearing on what needed to be done. Read the book for what happened next. The story continues!
Going through my daily ritual of checking out and responding to what my “friends” have posted since my last visiting Facebook, I came across one posting that referred to a blog article which had the intriguing title “Inequality is bad for EVERYBODY: its time to close the gap”. In the article, the author, who works with a homeless charity in West London, made the point “I am struck by the incredible inequality on display in the West End of London” and backed it up with a number of examples, concluding that “we should all care about inequality because it hurts us all. The massive gap between the rich and the poor is bad for all of us”. This is not something confined to West London of course and every day, as I go on Facebook and read “social injustice” postings, check out other media reporting and, as a consequence of my own engagement with the wider community, I find I can only concur.
As the lyrics of one my all time favourite songs says: “the times they are a changing”. It is true there has always been a rich poor divide and, political theory aside, the rich have generally managed to keep it that way. When visiting non first world countries and seeing life in the raw, the divide often stares you in the face. But one senses, with the disillusionment of a large section of the British public with the main political parties, who may claim or intend to address issues of inequality and injustice, yet we still find that the rich poor divide is ever widening, and something will have to give, although quite what no-one knows for sure, for the times they are indeed a changing and, whether for the worse or for the better, we all have our part to play.
It has taken me a long time to get to grips with the social justice agenda that when I now read my Bible seems all too evident. When I first came across liberation theology, which interprets the teachings of Christ in relation to a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions, I was naturally skeptical, for I believed then and I still do, liberation starts from within and perfect justice will only be seen in the Kingdom where Christ reigns, following his return. The same goes with something like Christian Socialism. While I would urge caution and balance to any inclined to embrace these ideologies, I cannot deny there is more than a grain of truth in some of the teachings and by ignoring them we also become unbalanced. Again I refer to my writings: “Theological Musings” for my now more radical thoughts on the matter, albeit also from an orthodox position. As far as I am concerned, when I tackle issues like homelessness, while practically helping those in need and doing what needs to be done must be in the forefront of my response, it would be remiss of me to ignore the bigger picture and wider issues.
The issue of equality and diversity and its relationship with poverty is a many faceted and complex one. What struck this blog writer was that in the same neighbourhood there were overt signs of affluence, such as £5000 designer hand bags on display in shop windows, and nearby was his homeless day centre that catered for hundreds. Similar stories can be told the world over, and where poverty is even direr, but we are talking here about our own patch and one where we feel we ought to be able to make a difference. In my early days as a community activist, I somehow found myself involved in the area of equality and diversity. It did strike me at the time that there was a lot of emphasis on race, religion, age, disability, gender and sexual orientation, and rightly so, but little on these societal inequalities and its relationship with poverty. The escalation of food banks and the need for night shelters or similar are two current examples.
Politicians will debate whether the state taking more control and increasing the welfare “pot” or fostering an enterprise culture and creating wealth such that all, irrespective of circumstances, have an opportunity to prosper (although it begs the question in the case of children, elderly, infirm, disabled, carers etc.) is the right way to go, and as an electorate we need to hear what they say, even if like me not holding out much hope, yet it is beholden on us to tell them what we think. For me, the fundamental questions are what is the true position, what can be done to change this and what can I do?
I conclude with three quotes from Pope Francis, who is at the fore of big changes taking place in the Catholic Church yet reflects some of the thinking of some other non-Catholic Christians, including me. Such statements, a few years ago, few will have expected to hear, but now we do there is reason for some hope that in this matter right will prevail. While these need to be tested against what the Bible teaches, I commend these as worthy of consideration.
“While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are charged with providing for the common good. A new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules.”
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world …This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
“Inequality is the root of social evil”.